Saturday, December 15, 2012

Showcase of Tools





































Every Wednesday I'm at the Chamorro Village where I open my grandfather's blacksmith shop.

My grandfather is a Chamorro Master Blacksmith and the only remaining pre-World War II blacksmith. Due to my grandmother being ill we haven't made much lately and so the case of tools for sale is fairly empty right now.

Above is a picture of the last time that it was truly full and the last time my grandfather was down at the shop. Each of those tools or knives in there is slightly different and has its own story or rationale. It is interesting to know and to feel that story and that complexity even if for more who walk into the shop it is simply a piece of metal.

I thought just for education sake I'd list the tools in the showcase above and give some background on each of them.

Kamyo: A tool for grating coconut. You attach the metal blade to a wooden stool and then grate halves of coconut over the metal teeth in order to shred the coconut meat. This is the first tool that I learned to make and one of the few that I can make entirely on my own. In the times before metal the kamyo would be made using sharpened shell.

Skinning Knife: Something that grandpa only started to make recently and in response to the many hunters on Guam. Most of grandpa's tools have been geared towards farming and farmers, even if not many farmers buy them anymore. But each week many hunters, especially those in the military stationed on Guam come through the shop. Grandpa decided to make a knife that was affordable for them when they are skinning pig or dear.

Se'se' ha': Although grandpa is famous for making machetes, in truth we don't sell that many anymore. They are hard to make and few people want to pay the cost for the amount of time and work that goes into them. As an alternative grandpa began making a smaller and lighter blade that he sometimes calls a utility knife or a camping knife, which is still sturdy and solid, but not as menacing as a proper machete. This is now grandpa's biggest selling knife and thank goodness because it is very easy to make when compared to some of the other tools.

Higam: Not made by us, but by another artist. Nonetheless it is still a very nice piece. The higam is known in Guam today as adze, gachai or hachita and is used for carving and shaping the hull of a canoe. In ancient times the higam was made with a stone or shell tip lashed onto a wooden handle. The tip for the higam in the picture is made from hima or giant clam shell, a material used in ancient times. In the centuries since European contact the higam was made using metal blades. If you are from the Gofigan clan on Guam, one of the theories for where your name comes from is that in the past you were excellent canoe builders. Gofigan may come from the ancient Chamorro title "Gofhigam" or to be very good with a higam.

Macheten Anakko': The traditional Chamorro machete is fairly heavy and thick compared to those you find in other countries and cultures. It isn't necessarily long, but still has a nice heft to it because it was used primarily for splitting coconuts open at a quick and consistent pace. But a 12 in machete costs about $500 - 600, and few people are willing to pay that much for it, even if you can consider it a work of art. A few years ago grandpa started to make a lighter, longer machete that was easier to make than the traditional and therefore much more affordable. This is a machete that you can use to split open coconuts, but has to be used much more carefully than the traditional type, especially for heavy duty activity. The first few that we made I referred to as "Macheten Palakse" because of the way their shape and the blue we used on them reminded me of a parrotfish. My father refers to them as a lady's machete, because they are lighter and to be used for less strenuous jobs than the traditional "manly" machete.

Macheten Dikike': A perfect option for those looking for a great gift or a great souvenir from my grandfather. The macheten dikike' is a smaller version of the traditional Chamorro machete. The shape is the same and the handle is the same and it is still functional, although its smaller size means you probably shouldn't try much heavy duty work with it. Some hunters have found it ideal for slaughtering and skinning animals. Chamorro blacksmithing for many centuries was rooted in practical applications due to the scarcity of metal on the island. This meant that blacksmiths didn't mess around alot when creating things because most of your metal came from salvaging things. Two things happened in the 20th century to change this. First the US colonial period brought in more metal than ever before and second the US Navy on Guam created the first market that blacksmiths could produce non-practical, but more souvenir based goods for. Guam had silver and goldsmiths who would sometimes produce pieces of jewelry as souvenirs for those who visited Guam, but blacksmiths became more active in terms of creating souvenir knives during this period. The macheten dikike' that my grandfather makes is based on the type that his father sold to the US Navy as gifts for officers and sailors as going away gifts, when their tour was up on Guam. This practice continues up until today, although they tend not to buy the macheten dikike' but instead choose one of the cheaper knives.

Tiheras Pugua': One of the most popular tools that grandpa sells, these are scissors designed specifically for cutting open the husk of pugua'. For those who enjoy chewing pugua' getting open the husk can sometimes be difficult. Using regular scissors, even a knife or smashing it with a door can all be dangerous and ineffective. These scissors are very popular but this isn't an item that we like making very much. People don't want to pay very much for tiheras pugua', in fact they sometimes want to pay very little and so it can be difficult to get compensated for your time and work when people think of the tiheras pugua' as just like any other pair of scissors.

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